Reassessing the Apple Tax

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Macs are often criticized for the high price of their hardware. This so-called Apple tax is the premium that Apple computers usually cost over comparably equipped PCs. But since the company dropped prices on its laptop line yesterday, that difference is now smaller than ever.

Of course, Mac enthusiasts might even say the Apple tax never existed, since no MacBook Pro competitor has the aluminum unibody construction or multi-touch track pad that the MacBook Pro does.

In any case, I've been playing with the numbers, and I've noticed something interesting: When the newest 13-inch MacBook Pro is configured with similar features and put head to head with a Dell XPS 1330 (arguably Dell’s most similar computer), the two come within spitting distance in price.

The base price for the 13-inch MacBook Pro is $1199 while the Dell XPS M1330 starts at $749. Using each company’s online configuration tool, I created systems with the following attributes: 13.3-inch LED backlit screen, 4GB RAM, 320GB Hard disk, Nvidia GE Force 9400M Graphics Card, 802.11n networking, integrated webcam, backlit keyboard and Bluetooth. The MacBook comes with a 2.26 GHz Intel processor with a 1066 MHz frontside bus, versus 2.4 GHz and 800 MHz, respectively, for the Dell.

The Dell was configured with a 9-cell battery, which should at least approach the 7 hours Apple advertises for its integrated battery. Dell’s computer weighs in at just under 4 pounds with a 6-cell battery and with the 9-cell is likely to be pretty close to the MBP's 4.5 pounds. Both included a one-year warranty. Including Windows Vista Home Premium, the Dell came out to $1304 as compared to $1399 for the Apple. Apple tax: $95.

For those willing to put a premium on the featherweight computing experience, the new $1499 base price of the MacBook Air should give you a reason to take a fresh look. Also, it should cause Dell to break a sweat as the competing Adamo now starts at a full $500 more. In its $1799 configuration, the Air matches the 128GB Solid Stage Drive of the Adamo and bests its 1.2 GHz processor with one that clocks in at 2.13 GHz. Both come with 2GB of RAM and no optical drive. The Air weighs one full pound less than the Adamo at 3 lbs.

If you’ve been attracted to OS X and the Apple computer experience, but have been put off by high prices, Apple just extended an olive branch to you.

Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.

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